Despotic India

On March 24, when Modi ordered a complete lockdown of India’s population of 1.3 billion (“there will be a total ban on venturing out of your homes”), the country had 536 reported coronavirus cases and 10 deaths.

As of Sunday, with Modi having decided to extend the lockdown indefinitely, India had 9,204 total cases and 331 deaths.

India’s death rate in 2018 was 7.3/1000, meaning 9.9 million people died that year, or roughly 27,000 people per day.

Thus, the pandemic so far has (officially) killed about 1% of the number of people who die every day in India. Somehow, I find it hard to believe that this warrants the chaos that has been visited upon the population:

Mr. Modi announced the lockdown, which includes a ban on interstate travel, with just four hours’ notice on Tuesday, leaving the enormous migrant population stranded in big cities. Jobs lure at least 45 million people to cities from the countryside every year, according to government estimates.

Many of those migrants are fed and housed at the shops and construction sites where they work, and as businesses closed, hundreds of thousands — if not millions — were suddenly without their homes and a regular source of food. […]

Soup kitchens across Delhi are unable to cope with the demand, which aid workers estimate has tripled. Fights have been breaking out. The government has given the police no explicit policy for dealing with stranded migrants, and many officers have lashed out.

“In the absence of a clear policy, the migrants have been left to the whims of police. And there are instances where the police treat them inhumanely,” said Ashwin Parulkar, a senior researcher for the Center for Policy Research in Delhi who studies India’s homeless population.

Usually, the homeless are fed by India’s array of religious institutions: Hindu temples, Sikh gurdwaras and mosques. But now, everything is closed, and shelters are feeling the strain. […]

Mr. Kumar said most homeless people he encountered had known nothing about the coronavirus, and had awakened one day to find the police shooing them off the streets, ordering them to practice social distancing — a new catchword in India, as in most of the world.

“But where do the homeless go?” he asked.

The country’s entire train system has been shut down:

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 25, Indian Railways took the unprecedented move of suspending passenger trains across the country until April 14.

It was the first time in 167 years that Asia’s oldest rail network had been suspended.

Now the railway network has decided to convert as many as 20,000 old train carriages into isolation wards for patients as the virus spreads. […]

Normally, Indian Railways runs more than 20,000 passenger trains a day, on long-distance and suburban routes, from 7,349 stations across India.

The lockdown has put nearly 67,368 kilometers of track out of use — enough to circle the equator 1.5 times — and left thousands of passenger trains sitting idle. Freight trains, or goods trains as they are called in India, remain operational.

The global mass hysteria has triggered a panicked response from India’s politicians:

Just across the river from me in the hamlet of Penha de França, the Harvard Medical School professor Vikram Patel was caught up in the melee. Along with his neighbours, he was assaulted by the police while queueing to buy provisions. He spoke of “the constantly changing announcements on social restrictions, the abandonment of government responsibility to secure supply chains, the threatening of desperate people with military-style responses, and the crushing of small businesses which define rural life in Goa”. These were the decisions of panicked politicians. Planned and phased reactions, he told me, would have been much less disruptive and damaging.

The tumult in Goa was only a microcosm of the rest of the country. Just over 4,900 Covid-19 infections (and 137 deaths) have been registered since India’s first case on 30 January, but numbers pale in comparison to tuberculosis, which has killed hundreds of thousands of Indians every year for decades, without triggering any draconian curfews. Patel pointed out that this astonishing death toll had never occasioned any panic. In his view, the abrupt actions in this case “suggests that those advising our government have omitted the first lesson of public health, which is that context matters”.

Those singular circumstances look increasingly daunting, with no obvious solutions in sight. The majority of India’s workers, 85%, are in the informal economy. Their livelihoods have been ruinously disrupted, and prospects look increasingly bleak in the global recession the IMF has already called “a crisis like no other”.

To quote Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, it appears that Modi has rediscovered the 20th century’s “most radical vice: social engineering – the notion that human beings can be shoveled around like concrete.”

More supply chain disruption

Chris Martenson of Peak Prosperity talks about how the Indian government has banned the export of 26 active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) due to coronavirus (Reuters report here):

And more:

And here’s an excellent interview with Cornell professor David Collum on coronavirus, what we don’t know, and erring to the side of caution:

In the mood for war

Looks like world is gearing up for a major conflagration:

  • Israel is now striking Iranian military targets in Iraq (the first Israeli strike in Iraq since 1981).
  • China’s top official overseeing Hong Kong affairs has described the protests as a “color revolution” and apparently suggested that the PLA could be deployed.
  • India has decided to revoke the autonomous status of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir, a move that Pakistan deems illegal.
  • “Turkey has threatened to re-open the floodgates of mass migration to Europe unless Turkish nationals are granted visa-free travel to the European Union.”

Better get to work on that home fallout shelter…


Nuclear apocalypse averted on the Indian subcontinent:

Pakistan finally handed over a recently captured Indian fighter pilot after an inordinate seven-hour delay, allowing him to walk across the Wagah border on Friday night. Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced on the floor of the National Assembly on Thursday that Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman would be released as a “gesture of peace.”

The release of the pilot proved to be a significant de-escalation measure, coming days after Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter jets crossed into Pakistan and bombed an alleged “terror camp” of the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). Pakistan retaliated with air strikes on Wednesday morning, bombing some open areas next to Indian military installations along the Line of Control (LoC) on the Indian side. Varthaman’s aircraft was scrambled from Srinagar air force base and engaged the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) jets before being shot down. The air attacks came in the wake of a terror attack that led to the death of 40 Indian policemen in Pulwama, Indian-administered Kashmir.

The outcome was definitely a happy one for the pilot:

He was captured by the Pakistani military soon after being assaulted by some local residents. “I am happy to be back to my country,” he said to Indian officials waiting anxiously before he was whisked away to board a flight to Delhi. He will have to undergo a detailed debrief, IAF officials told Asia Times.

According to Pakistani media reports, Varthaman was confused about his location before being found by the local residents. They chased him for half a kilometer, and he fired a few shots with his service pistol to dissuade them, before jumping into a pond. “He was trying to swallow some documents and drown the rest when the locals caught up with him,” eyewitnesses said. The locals had started beating him up when Pakistan Army soldiers arrived and took him away.

A free hand

Looks like India and Pakistan could be on the brink of all-out war:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave the Indian military a “free hand” to act regarding the time, place and how they want to move forward after Pakistan violated the Indian airspace earlier on Wednesday, according to sources. The decision was taken at a high-level security meeting with all three Service Chiefs.

With a sharp spike in tensions between India and Pakistan following an airspace violation across LoC, Modi on Wednesday met service chiefs and National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval at his residence at 7 Lok Kalyan Marg, New Delhi, to discuss the prevailing situation at the border areas in Jammu and Kashmir. The meeting came hours after Pakistan on Wednesday intruded into Indian airspace in Jammu and Kashmir’s Nowshera and Poonch sectors of Rajouri district and captured one of its pilots.

Yeah, that’s alarming.


Things are heating up between India and Pakistan:

Pakistan said it shot down two Indian aircraft from inside its airspace Wednesday and launched strikes inside Indian-controlled Kashmir, one day after India sent jets into Pakistani territory for the first time since 1971 and dropped bombs there.

The tit-for-tat aerial strikes marked the first serious military escalation between the two nuclear-armed rivals in two decades, although it did not immediately appear that either attack had caused any casualties. Both countries claim the Himalayan Kashmir region, which is divided by a militarized “Line of Control.”

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said its air force strikes were aimed at “non-military targets” to avoid human loss and damage, and that their sole purpose was to “demonstrate our right, will and capability for self-defense.” It said Pakistan has “no intention of escalation, but we are fully prepared to do so if forced.”

Hopefully cooler heads will prevail. It’s safe to say the world does not need a shooting war between two nuclear powers right now.

World’s tallest statue

So huge, it’s scary:

Statue of Unity India

Statue of Unity

The new Statue of Unity, twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty, is located in the middle of nowhere in the state of Gujarat, India. At 597 feet, it is the world’s tallest statue. The sculpture is of Indian independence leader Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

Quote from India’s prime minister:

“This statue is an answer to all those who question India’s power and might,” Modi said in his address, before heading to take part in religious rites to mark the unveiling.

And if that’s not enough, this should settle the matter:

Even as the wrangling over the Statue of Unity continues, a taller and possibly even more divisive sculpture is in the works off the coast of Mumbai. Scheduled for completion in 2021, it is of Chhatrapati Shivaji, a Hindu warrior king, revered for battling Muslim rulers.

Statue of Shivaji Mumbai

Statue of Shivaji

Once that monstrosity is topped off, I think India’s status as a global superpower will be firmly cemented.